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Welcome to FNEI Insights, the FiscalNote Executive Institute’s monthly thought leadership blog where we interview executives about top issues affecting companies, including sustainability; diversity, equity, and inclusion; digital transformation; and ESG. We are exploring adding videos to these — see selected excerpts below and watch the full-length discussion.

Senior executives are increasingly asked to stay ahead of global policy, break into new international markets, and manage global teams. Companies are under pressure to address global challenges like climate change, pandemics, and changing regulations that affect supply chains. What do you need to know to take on these challenges and be successful? 

FiscalNote’s Leyla Sertel, Director of EU Business Development, spoke with Karim Antonio Lesina, Executive Vice President, Chief External Affairs Officer at Millicom; Nathalie Errard, SVP, Head of Europe and NATO affairs at Airbus; Kevin Rejent, Senior Counsel – Regulatory & Government Affairs at Energizer Holdings; and Puru Trivedi, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, at Meridian International Center, about why global affairs is implicit to their leadership roles in today’s world. Here are some key takeaways from their conversation:

Mergers and acquisitions, “glocal” regulation, and international issues such as the pandemic are driving factors in why senior executives should stay on top of global affairs. It’s important to be proactive versus reactive.

Rejent: As a consumer goods company in over 160 markets around the world, when we were simply batteries, it was easier to maintain. We understood the market, we understood the regulations that generally didn’t vary … Mergers and acquisitions have led to new markets, new regulations. Now we have a large auto division, which has a lot of chemical restrictions. 

Lesina: The more your sector is regulated, the more you need a huge global affair strategy. … It really depends on which sectors you’re really focusing on and which countries you’re investing in. Some countries will not require a lot of effort, especially when they are a better practice, governments are very open and decision-making is transparent. Other countries are a little less transparent and require much more investment, much more focus. There is also the world of international dimensional regulation. We are moving from local to global, but probably we are in the mix of “glocal,” where a lot of our national regulations are influenced by international regulation. 

Rejent: The reactive nature of the pandemic, where all of a sudden a country would say “We’re shutting down, you can’t produce, or the stores are closed, nobody can buy the goods.” Having to respond to those challenges has really sharpened both our speed and our network around the world, our network of trade associations and law firms and public affairs teams, and allowed us to become more integrated in the markets in which we operate. … The pandemic and the acquisitions have caused us to decide to have more of a coordinated approach to global affairs.

Company leaders increasingly are engaging on the global stage as diplomats, and they often wield more influence and credibility than heads of state. 

Trivedi: Companies are diplomats in their own right, and they need the skill set of diplomats to be effective in their jobs in the 21st century. You have companies now that are engaging like countries at the global level and the multilateral level as well. Companies such as Tesla, which has the same GDP as Pakistan, a nation of 230 million people. These companies are starting to act and think like nation states do.

Strong corporate values and executive trust are crucial to global affairs work, which needs to be viewed as a long-term strategic asset.

Lesina: Every company has values and you have to implement your global affairs strategy based on that. The stronger the values of a company are, the easier the job of a global affairs executive is. … Nobody can work without the total trust of the highest leadership … You need to be sure you have people that see longer term … The most important fact in my whole career is convincing our executive leadership to really invest heavily in this because it’s a long-term strategic asset.

Global affairs requires a global and cultural perspective that comes from traveling, living, and working in different places. In-person engagement matters because “diplomacy is a contact sport.”

Errard: When you travel, you realize how much the center of gravity can switch from one location to another. It shows what you think is important, possible, and strategic can really differ depending on where you are and your surroundings. Our work is about convincing people and if you don’t see the importance of some topics for them, you miss the point.

Lesina: We need to really look around all the time and question ourselves as leaders in global affairs … We are too specialized at times and we don’t have the global view that helps our companies grow. You can only do that by traveling a lot and living in different places. … I believe if you don’t see the person, if you don’t feel the person, if you don’t see the eyes, the way they behave, you don’t get the people. You can’t convince a Chilean or Tanzanian regulator, or an Italian or Spanish politician over the phone; it doesn’t work — unless you have a very good relationship with them already.

Rejent: I stress to have meetings with colleagues and contacts in locations where I can’t travel. Even if you are not traveling, just having those contacts and keeping up with them and understanding how you’re projecting yourself to them is pretty important.

To thrive as a new global affairs leader, you must justify your value in the long term, including proving your ROI and focusing on your shareholders and your company’s strengths.

Lesina: In the end you’re working for your shareholders. Your work is to protect the company and potentially to grow it. … We all need to have a big economic background — we need to understand what our CFO is talking about … if you don’t know that, you’re never going to be able to convince your CEO and your CFO. … Justify the long-term value of what you’re doing.

Errard: Identify the topics where you can make a difference for your company. This is a job where you have a lot of creativity. There are different ways to get there …You can define your agenda and find your own solutions and your own way. … If you’re able to identify topics that can make a difference and provide value, budget is not a problem.

Rejent: We identify the assets we have  and ask “how do we not reinvent the wheel? What great work has already been completed by other people in the company, and what assets are available … to draw upon?” We can show them that we’re leveraging every resource we have to get the most impact. … If I go to some theoretical argument as to why we need good policy, isn’t going to resonate; I have to be able to attach a bottom line to it or some sort of tangible benefit.